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Endocrinology. 2009 Aug;150(8):3877-84. doi: 10.1210/en.2009-0098. Epub 2009 Apr 30.

Estrogens augment cell surface TLR4 expression on murine macrophages and regulate sepsis susceptibility in vivo.

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  • 1Department of Biology, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina 28223, USA.


Gender-based differences exist in infectious disease susceptibility. In general, females generate more robust and potentially protective humoral and cell-mediated immune responses after antigenic challenge than their male counterparts. Furthermore, evidence is accumulating that sex may also influence the early perception of microbial challenges and the generation of inflammatory immune responses such as sepsis. These differences have previously been attributed to the actions of reproductive hormones. Whereas androgens have been shown to suppress acute host immune responses to bacterial endotoxin challenge, estrogens have been found to promote increased resistance to bacterial infections. However, the mechanisms by which estrogens exert immunoprotective effects have not been established. In this study, we investigated the in vivo effects of 17beta-estradiol on endotoxin susceptibility in mice. Importantly, we have examined the actions of this female reproductive hormone on the expression of pattern recognition receptors that recognize bacterial endotoxin by key innate immune sentinel cells. We show that removal of endogenous estrogens decreases both pro- and antiinflammatory cytokine production, with a concomitant reduction in circulating levels of lipopolysaccharide-binding protein and cell surface expression of Toll-like receptor 4 on murine macrophages. Exogenous in vivo replacement of 17beta-estradiol, but not progesterone, significantly elevates sera lipopolysaccharide-binding protein levels and cell surface expression of Toll-like receptor 4 and CD14 on macrophages. Furthermore, this effect corresponds with significantly higher inflammatory cytokine levels after in vivo lipopolysaccharide challenge and a marked increase in endotoxin-associated morbidity. Taken together, these data provide a potential mechanism underlying the immunoenhancing effects of estrogens.

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